Monday, May 9, 2016

You do you

The phrase has been seeping into our family conversations courtesy of K1. A search turned up this delightlful Colson Whitehead article.

Wherever you hail from, you’ll recognize “You do you” and “Do you” as contemporary versions of that life-­affirming chestnut “Just be yourself.” It’s the gift of encouragement from one person to another, what we tell children on the first day of kindergarten, how we reassure buddies as they primp for a blind date or rehearse asking for a raise. You do you, as if we could be anyone else. Depending on your essential qualities, this song of oneself is cause for joy or tragedy. 
You’ve also come across that expression’s siblings, like the defensive, arms-­crossed “Haters gonna hate” or the perpetually shrugging “It is what it is.” Like black holes, they are inviolable. All criticism is destroyed when it hits the horizon of their circular logic, and not even light can escape their immense gravity. In a world where the selfie has become our dominant art form, tautological phrases like “You do you” and its tribe provide a philosophical scaffolding for our ever-­evolving, ever more complicated narcissism. 
William Safire, writing in these pages in 2006, coined a word for these self-­justifying constructions: “tautophrases.” This was in the midst of his investigation into the ubiquity of “It is what it is,” as evidenced in its use by cultural specimens as disparate as Britney Spears and Scott McClellan, a press secretary for President George W. Bush. (Pause to reminisce.) Whether the subject is an imperfect situation to be endured (“The new coffee in the break room is the pits”) or an existential conundrum (“My body is a bunch of atoms working in brief harmony before death returns them to the universe”), “It is what it is” effectively ends the discussion so that we can stop, nod in solemn agreement and move on. 
According to Safire, “It is what it is” has many tautophrasal relatives and ancestors. “What’s done is done,” “What will be will be.” The striking thing about his examples is how many of them preserve and burnish the established order. When God informs Moses, “I am that I am,” he is telling the prophet, “Look, get off my back, I’m God.” I’ve never argued with a bush, burning or otherwise, but I imagine they’re quite persuasive. “Boys will be boys” and “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do” excuse mischief and usually worse, reinforcing the dominant masculine code. It’s doubtful that “I just discovered penicillin!” or “Publishing Willa Cather’s ‘My Antonia’ was the most satisfying moment of my career” elicited a gruff “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do,” but perhaps I am cynical. Popeye’s “I yam what I yam,” however, remains what it has always been — the pathetic ravings of a man who claims superstrength, when it is obvious to everyone else in the room that spinach merely ameliorates the symptoms of an undiagnosed vitamin deficiency. A scurvy dog, indeed. 
While the word “tautophrase” didn’t take off, the phenomenon it described blossomed, abetted by hip-­hop. Sure, philosophical resignation has been a part of the music as far back as 1984, when Run-­D.M.C. reeled off a litany of misfortune — “Unemployment at a record high/People coming, people going, people born to die” — and underscored it with a weary, “It’s like that/and that’s the way it is.” But grandiosity, narcissism and artful braggadocio have also been integral to hip-­hop from the start, whether they were the fruit of a supercharged sense of self or a coping mechanism for a deleterious urban environment. As with everything interesting in black culture, hip-­hop’s swaggering tautophrases have been digested and regurgitated by the mainstream. Last year, Taylor Swift somewhat boringly testified that not only are “Haters gonna hate,” they’re gonna “hate hate hate” exponentially, presumably in direct proportion to her lack of culpability. Instead of serving the establishment (monotheism, patriarchal energies), the modern tautophrase empowers the individual. Regardless of how shallow that individual is.

More at the link. The article should also have mentioned that the original source for "What's done is done" is none other than Lady Macbeth.

The broad appeal of Captain America Civil War

Could it be because the age of the actors cuts across a wide spectrum?

Actor Year Of Birth Decade of birth Age Age decade
Chris Evans 1981 80s 35 30s
Robert Downey Jr 1965 60s 51 50s
Scarlett Johansson 1984 80s 32 30s
Sebastian Stan 1982 80s 34 30s
Anthony Mackie 1978 70s 38 30s
Don Cheadle 1964 60s 52 50s
Jeremy Renner 1971 70s 45 40s
Chadwick Boseman  1976 70s 40 40s
Paul Bettany 1971 70s 45 40s
Elizabeth Olsen 1989 80s 27 20s
Paul Rudd 1969 60s 47 40s
Emily VanCamp 1986 80s 30 30s
Tom Holland 1996 90s 20 20s

Nah, it's probably just because it's a good story. (Not great - but better than Age of Ultron).

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Microbreweries reviving America's cities

Lubec, Maine isn't exactly a city. We were there last summer for a few days and enjoyed it. If what James Fallows believes is true - that breweries can be an engine of growth - all the best to Lubec Brewing. I enjoyed the beer at Water Street Tavern and the food was good too! The bonus was sitting outside and watching the seals.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The failure of the greatest triumph of economics

One of the greatest triumphs of economic theory is that agents gain from trading with each other. The proof either from a Ricardian or an Edgeworth box framework is irrefutable and together with the Heckscher-Ohlin model have formed the basis for argument for free trade.

Reality has always been more complex however and recent research shows the consequences.
Cross-referencing congressional voting records and district-by-district patterns of job losses and other economic trends between 2002 and 2010, the researchers found that areas hardest hit by trade shocks were much more likely to move to the far right or the far left politically.
“It’s not about incumbents changing their positions,” said David Autor, an influential scholar of labor economics and trade at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one of the paper’s authors. “It’s about the replacement of moderates with more ideological successors.”
Mr. Autor added: “In retrospect, whether it’s Trump or Sanders, we should have seen in it coming. The China shock isn’t the sole factor, but it is something of a missing link.”

Autor adds:
Mr. Autor, like most economists, is still persuaded of the long-established benefits that global trade confers on the economy as a whole. But he recognizes that angry voters have valid reasons to be frustrated.
“It’s a matter of diffuse benefits and concentrated costs, but our political system hasn’t addressed those costs,” he said.
Some staunch defenders of globalization, like Gary Clyde Hufbauer, a senior fellow at the Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, also acknowledge that the federal government has failed to adequately address the needs of workers dislocated by lowered import barriers.
But the benefit of free trade is “10 times the size of the losses,” he said. “Free trade really helps working-class people in terms of lower prices for products. The benefits are skewed toward people with lower income because they spend a much larger fraction of their income on merchandise.”

If the gains from trade are as large as economists claim to be then why hasn't the political system found a way to fully compensate the losers in terms of lifetime incomes. Let's say free trade lowers the price of clothing by one dollar. Why not impose a tax of say 90 cents on clothing and use this tax to compensate the workers who have lost their jobs as a result for as long as they would have worked (perhaps until age 65)? Or, target the losers, calculate the size of their losses in terms of lifetime incomes and then find a tax rate that would equate these losses. The tax would not be permanent but it would trade off a higher rate with a lower time frame for the tax. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The problem with Hillary

This comment nailed it for me:

Cynthia Kral, 38, of Pittsburgh, said she would never vote for Mrs. Clinton. “I cannot trust her,” Ms. Kral said, adding that she planned to vote for a third-party candidate or write in Mr. Sanders’s name in the general election. “I feel like she can be bought on anything, and for her to be president — that kind of scares me.”

This and the obvious rush for the dollars that came after they left the White House.

Indiana Jones and the changing of time

Watched Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom last weekend. I had not remembered very much of it. It probably won't pass the new sensibilities of today. I found the depiction of India and Indians somewhat offensive.

In contrast Raiders of the Lost Ark did not offend me but would John Rhys Davies as Sallah be accused of cultural appropriation today?

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Is AlphaGo really such a big deal

In some ways yes as described in this article in Quanta with the same title as this post. But not mentioned often enough is this:

For the last 20 years, we’ve had exponential growth, and for the last 20 years, people have said it can’t continue. It just continues. But there are other considerations we haven’t thought of before. If you look at AlphaGo, I’m not sure of the fine details of the amount of power it was using, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was using hundreds of kilowatts of power to do the computation. Lee Sedong was probably using about 30 watts, that’s about what the brain takes, it’s comparable to a light bulb.

This is from Geoff Hinton. Also interesting is this article on Demis Hassabis one of the founders of Deepmind on what the future might be:

Most AI systems are “narrow”, training pre-programmed agents to master a particular task and not much else. So IBM’s Deep Blue could beat Gary Kasparov at chess, but would struggle against a three-year-old in a round of noughts and crosses. Hassabis, on the other hand, is taking his inspiration from the human brain and attempting to build the first “general-purpose learning machine”: a single set of flexible, adaptive algorithms that can learn – in the same way biological systems do – how to master any task from scratch, using nothing more than raw data.